Development, Design, and Marketing

Should I use WordPress Plugins? How Many is too Many?

Currently, there are somewhere near 50,000 WordPress plugins available within the WP plugin database. While it may be tempting to take on the role of a kid in a candy store, it is important to understand more plugins could potentially cause more problems. Improper management of plugins may cause a large array of security vulnerabilities, performance issues, bogged download times, and even functionality.

Yikes, Okay. Sounds like I Should Avoid Plugins?

Nope! Not at all. Not only are plugins very useful, but they could save you and your team countless hours of work and reduce overall costs. Over the years, WordPress has become quite a powerhouse when looking at features and functionality. When working with WordPress you are certainly working with a solid foundation for your site. However, there is not a one size fits all solution. If you happen to come across one, we recommend running in the opposite direction! This is where plugins come in handy. These little guys are here to help you fill the gaps and extend functionality.

Plugins can offer practical solutions to speeding up your website, managing SEO (search engine optimization), and even boost security. With 75,000,000 websites built in WordPress, powering 30% of the web, it comes as no surprise that the platform is so widely supported. There are 50,000 available, remember? They can cover everything from adding eCommerce elements, tweaking blog functionality, managing membership capabilities, displaying a little photo of you next to your blog post, the possibilities are endless.

Got it! Now, Where is the Risk?

The added functionality and minimal time it takes to apply a plugin sounds great, but the truth is the more you have, the greater the risk is of running into issues.

Issue #1: Security & Quality

Plugin quality and support vary greatly. Most plugins you use will come from independent developers, 3rd party companies, or even someone coding something for the very first time. With so many variables, if you are not experienced, it is very easy to code an accidental security vulnerability. Even seasoned developers may happen to miss a line of code because it is not immediately clear. Remember, plugins are pieces of code that you are combining with an existing codebase. When you enable a WordPress plugin, you are adding that piece of code to your project. Prepare to take ownership of everything that comes with that.

The greater the number of plugins you have installed and activated, the higher the risk that one of those plugins may have a security flaw. The last thing you want is a hacker exploiting and infiltrating your site. Once an outside user has access to your site they could steal information, corrupt data, or completely delete your entire project. Even worse, your users/customers become at risk.

Issue #2: Plugin Compatibility

When installing and activating plugins, you are introducing foreign code into your project. It is very important that everybody gets along with each other, or else you could have a major compatibility issue break your site. Without proper knowledge, you could find yourself locked out completely, with what appears as a “bricked site.”  Think of it like gears in a machine. When they’re compatible, the teeth of two pieces line up and rotate in unison. Now imagine inserting a foreign cog that does not quite fit. The gears may grind and eventually cause a major meltdown. Same idea, kind of…

Not only are standards important, but different developers code differently. Each with their own way of solving a problem. When you combine many outside solutions into one final product, it’s important to thoroughly test each plugin not only with itself but with other plugins. With over 50,000 plugins on the WordPress repository, it is impossible for anyone to make sure every plugin is compatible. Guess what? They’re not, not even close.

Issue # 3: Maintenance

Imagine that you verified that your plugins were written by reputable developers. You have taken the time and checked that they are not only compatible with your website and theme, but also with other plugins. After ensuring these steps, you still begin to find out that as time goes by parts of your website begin to breakdown, or completely shut down. Now what?

As the web changes, so does WordPress. The platform continues to evolve, grow, and becomes better over time. To make this happen, the good people at WordPress must regularly update the code that runs the platform. When this happens, every single one of your plugins runs into the risk of breaking. Each plugin was designed by an independent source, designing for a version of WordPress. If WordPress updates and your plugins do not, you run in the risk of causing conflict, gears that won’t fit. The good news is that most reputable plugin developers will supply updates when a new version comes out. The bad news is, the more plugins you have, the more of a pain this becomes to manage. Furthermore, if a company goes under, or a developer no longer wants to put in the time, the plugin may become unsupported.

Issue #4: Increase in Requests

Plugins offer all kinds of functionality to your website. This could be front-end related changes such as buying physical or digital goods or perhaps booking an appointment. Plugins like this usually need extra images, JavaScript, or CSS styling. These cause extra HTTP requests, which are request-response protocols that a visitor’s browser sends to your site’s server in order to request data to load the page they’re visiting. The server retrieves the requested data and then serves it up to the browser. Whew, that sounds like a lot!

Essentially, what you need to know is that the more of these that are sent, the more resources are being used. If all of a server’s resources are used up, your site crashes or becomes bogged down. We know that 40% of users tend to leave a website if the load time is not instant. You certainly do not want to risk losing users!

To break it down further, think of HTTP requests as your brains processing power. When you have one little problem to solve, it’s usually not a problem. When you have to solve hundreds of different problems coming from many different places, it becomes completely overwhelming. You become tired, stressed, or you even begin to shut down.

That’s a lot of Potential Issues. Where to Start?

It’s not all that bad if you take the time to learn. There are many solutions to accompany all of the stress that can come with the above neglect.

  • Review the plugin’s code – If you have prior knowledge in development, take a peak and make sure everything looks clean and organized. If you do not have prior knowledge, try to gather public opinion on the plugin. Check out reviews on WordPress and in outside communities. You can learn a lot about a company or individuals reputation by a few clever search queries.

 

  • Reduce the number of plugins you use – This is probably the most common sense solution. Using fewer plugins results in less risk and less maintenance. Ask yourself if there is another way to find a solution without using a quick fix plugin.

 

  • Check out multi-purpose plugins – You can reduce the number of plugins by taking out two birds with one stone. Many plugins may solve several problems you encounter.

 

  • Review what you need and delete the rest – Go through one by one and decide if this is something you need. If you have rouge deactivated plugins, or you no longer need one, delete it.

 

  • Test, test, test – Testing is critical. Test one at a time with other plugins if a problem arises, try to pinpoint the conflict. It’s also a good idea to test locally rather than on your live website.

 

  • Backup your website – Most hosting providers will offer some form of a backup solution. In case you enable something that breaks your site, you can simply contact your hosting company and have them roll back the website. Companies are beginning to charge extra for this feature, so make sure it’s turned on if you’re not sure about something.

 

  • Make sure the developer is active in maintaining the plugin – You can check the changelog to see how often the developer updates their plugin. If the developer hasn’t been active for several years, that’s probably not a plugin you want to invest your time into.

Can you Just Tell me How Many Plugins I Should Have?

Well, if you haven’t figured it out by now, it varies. There is no set number. Successful websites do not fit into one size fit all approaches, remember that. Personally, I tend to use anywhere from 5-10 at any giving time. I prefer more control and less maintenance. Even though this works for me, I have seen lightning fast websites with 100 plugins. It just depends on what you are going for and if you’re prepared to handle all the maintenance that comes with them. You’re not an expert now, but you’re on your way to finding the perfect amount of plugins for your needs!

Leave a Reply

Top